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Top XFL Prospects in HBCU Football Class of 22′ : The Offense

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The Running Backs

RB Jah-Maine Martin – North Carolina A&T

In his senior year, Martin put up a solid 606 yards and 4 TDs in a platoon with Kashon Baker and Bhayshul Graves. Yet it was his 2019 campaign that catches the eye. On 187 carries, he had an insane 1446 yards and 23 touchdowns on his way to a First Team All-MEAC nod. A transfer from Coastal Carolina, he proved in three years at North Carolina A&T that he can function as an effective part of a shared backfield, and dominate when given most of the snaps.

At 5’10” 220 he’s solidly built and runs with patience, burst an aggression. He has quick hips and can flip to move laterally on a dime to misdirect defenders, and can ruen on the jets down the sideline. An asset on inside and outside zone runs, its hard not to fall in love with the tape when you see what he’s capable of in the open field. Little surprise he had such a good 2019 campaign when you look at how he runs.

RB Bishop Bonnett – Florida A&M

A shifty cutback runner with speed in spades, Bishop Bonnett averaged a glowing 6.4 yards per carry in his senior year, for a total of 993 yards and 5 TD’s. He broke off multiple big-chunk plays, highlighted by an 80 yard TD against Alabama A&M. It was his first full season getting the lions’ share of carries, and he did big things with the chance, earning First Team All-SWAC honors. While the XFL would provide a great opportunity for him to grow against pro talent, the fact that he doesn’t have a ton of carries in college could be a boon in the pros.

Bonnett also offers good value as an option in the pass game, and in his 2018 campaign, had 177 receiving yards and a TD on just 9 catches. If an XFL offensive coordinator wants to get him involved in this phase of the offense, his home run potential could be compounded.

RB Gary Quarles – Alabama A&M

Quarles is a dynamic threat who thrived this season in AAMU’s backfield. He led the SWAC in rushing TD’s with 10 in 2021, with 955 Rush Yards. He definitely can turn the afterburners, and possesses sprinter’s speed but can punch it in there too. He was as effective on the goal line as he was in the open field, and his touchdown totals can account to that.

He was also a favorite target of Aqeel Glass out of the backfield, doing much with short swing and flat routes. Quarles had 21 receptions for 224 yards this year and with his experience there could contribute right away as a 3down back. As with all young running backs, there will be room to grow in pass protection as the Bulldogs ran an empty backfield passing attack early and ofter, but Quarles is a tough, fast, versatile halfback.

RB Brett Sylve – Kentucky State

Brett Sylve is built like a Toyota Tacoma. The 5’8″ 210 pound back is a powerful runner at the point of attack who keeps his legs churning after contact and still has quickness to break away from defenses. Sylve was prolific with the Thorobreds, rushing for 3155 yards and 32 TD’s in his time there. 17 of these came this year, and his goalline abilities were unmatched in the SIAC.

A two-time First Team All-SIAC selection, Sylve would add a workhorse back to an XFL roster. I could see him thriving especially in a short yardage/goalline situations.

RB Calil Wilkins – Bowie State

Wilkins had the most rushing yards of any back from an HBCU program this year, with 1322 and 9 scores. He had some great performances this year, most notably an 137 yard, 3 TD game versus Elizabeth City State. With all that rushing production, he also proved a steady receiving option for Ja’Rome Johnson, with 12 catches for 141 yards and a score. A transfer from West Virginia State, he was a two-time All-MEC selection, and topped it off with an All-CIAA honor this year as well.

And he runs angry. As a sad Denver Broncos fan/new Javonte Williams stan, I appreciate that. You can see it when a guy doesn’t want to hit the dirt, and Wilkins embodies that mentality. Tough running, good quickness, speed, and versatility. He was a big part of this 10-0 offense, and it’s easy to see why this team dominated the CIAA.

Honorable Mentions

RB Ger’Kerry Jackson – Langston

RB Ezra Gray – Alabama State

RB Jeff Procter – Texas Southern

RB Peytton Pickett – Jackson State

The Wideouts

WR Corbin Keith – Jackson State

Sheduer Sanders’ favorite target this year has an extensive college resume. He spent 5 years with Houston, making 94 catches for 1467 yards and 13 TD’s, before coming into Jackson State and competing in a deep WR room. He finished the 2021 season with 69 catches for 921 yards and 7 scores, and was named Second Team All-SWAC, alongside an HBCU Legacy Bowl invitation.

With success in two different offenses and route trees, Corbin is a threat on the perimeter and over the middle, and to characterize his two best traits, I’d call him a top tier jump ball receiver and a YAC monster. I’m interested to see what his vertical is when Pro Days come around, because he goes up, and with the ball in his hands, he is a smooth and decisive runner who can misdirect tacklers without dancing too much and getting sticky. Playing against pro secondaries he’d have to adjust to the speed of course, but he brings great tools and a high ceiling to the game.

WR Trey Gross – Delaware State

Trey Gross is already an extremely talented route runner. His ability to ankle defenders on short and intermediate routes and create separation deep is obvious, and he could quickly become a quarterback’s best friend in the XFL. His nose for the ball and route running could make him a high impact possession receiver, but he has speed to do it over the top too.

An aggressive special teamer to boot, this part of his game could boost him up the depth chart as young wideouts with abilities here can stick easily if they contribute in this phase. Good in coverage units, he also has 2 blocked punts and a special teams TD, and could immediately become a ST mainstay while competing for snaps on offense.

WR Dee Anderson – Alabama A&M

An LSU transfer who caught passes from Joe Burrow, Dee Anderson is a massive target at 6’6″ 220 pounds and his talents were well used in the red zone. He finished 2021 with 33 receptions for 493 Yards and 12 TD’s, and at his size, with his body control Anderson can easily outbox DB’s. His soft hands are a serious plus as well, and while he’s had great success as an outside threat, I could see him thriving in the slot role that Donald Parham blew up the XFL in back in 2020.

I wouldn’t rule out a move to TE if he bulks up, but he’s an effective wideout with end-zone finesse who would immediately upgrade any red-zone/goal line package.

WR Jaquan Ebron – Bluefield

Ebron had a monstrous 2021 campaign, racking up 80 catches for 1406 yards and 16 TD’s. Production like that is hard to ignore. He was 3rd in the entire NIAA in all major receiving categories, and was the Mid-South Appalachian Division’s Offensive Player of the Year.

Highly skilled at coming down with contested catches in tight coverage, he has incredible hands and a great instinct to high-point the ball. He earned serious trust from his freshman quarterback, who was rarely afraid to put the ball up the him, and Ebron seems to always end up in the back corner of the endzone with the ball in his hands, regardless of coverage. I’d love to see what he could do at the next level.

WR Justin Smith – Norfolk State

There are a lot of talented WR’s in this class, so I was torn as to who to slot into the 5th spot here. Until I saw this play (0:23 seconds). You can’t teach that kind of natural ability, and I’m gonna keep talking about it so you might as well go watch the play. The term “Mossed” gets thrown around a lot these days, and we all know OBJ’s legendary one-handed catch. But you rarely see things like that. Smith makes incredible jump ball plays, twisting into position for back shoulder/high point throws, and you love to see intelligent moves like this from a young player.

His in-line/lateral speed is a huge asset in route running and YAC, but he’s not afraid to gut it and take shots over the middle either. He finished his career with the Spartans with 98 catches for 1655 yards and 15 TD’s. A tough, fast wideout with elite ball skills, he could be a real dynamic threat for an XFL QB to maximize.

Honorable Mentions

WR Shemar Bridges – Fort Valley State

WR LeCharles Pringle – Alcorn State

WR Jadakis Bonds – Hampton

WR Josh Wilkes – Arkansas-Pine Bluff

The Tight Ends

TE Kemari Averett – Bethune Cookman

Kemari Averett is easily my top TE on this list. At 6’6″ 260 pounds, he wasn’t confined to playing in-line or in the slot. They split him out wide often, and he excelled wherever the play drew him up. He’s a massive target, but on tape he absolutely runs routes like a WR. With quick feet and hips, good body control and steady hands, he’s capable of making plays all over the field.

It’s impossible to not see his potential on tape. He does everything you’d want to see out of a receiving target. Toe drags, one handed catches, jump balls, and tight route running. I’m here for it. One thing I’ve noticed with athletic tight ends in the NFL is that many of them dance around and try to juke smaller defensive backs after the catch, but Averett just goes forward, using his mass and velocity to go through DB’s rather than trying to go around them. Weird personal note, but I think that’s an important tendency for targets of his size. I love it, and with 52 catches, 888 yards and 10 TD’s his senior year, his production matches his ability. He should be a priority for XFL scouts, if NFL scouts don’t find him first.

TE Rodell Raahman – Tennessee State

Rodell Raahman is a pure football player who started at wide receiver, safety, tight end and linebacker at Urbana, Bowling Green and finally Tennessee State. It was with the Tigers, under Eddie George that he truly blossomed as a player, finishing the 2021 season with 29 catches for 484 yards and 6 TD’s. This is impressive production for a college TE, and he is as complete a prospect as you’ll see at the collegiate level.

At 6’4″ 230 pounds, he’s a slippery route runner who possesses speed to take the top off a defense. Tough over the middle and dangerous over the top, his pass catching skills alone would set him apart, but he also excels as a blocker. It’s rare for college TE’s to shine in both aspects of the game early in their careers, but he’s a nasty run blocker who drives defenders back with aggression, and can set his feet and hold ground too. Raahman is ahead of the game in terms of development and tools, and would be a great get for the XFL.

TE Kendric Johnson – Alabama A&M

A steady option for Aqeel Glass over the past 4 seasons, Kendric Johnson finished his time with AAMU with 59 receptions, 698 yards and 8 TD’s. His ability to maintain his production in an offense flush with receiving talent is a testament to his reliability.

Johnson is a smooth route runner who’s strong at the point of attack, and excels at making tough contested catches over the middle, taking shots while doing so. He’s got the quickness to slip upfield on the seams, and with this skillset has the potential to make an immediate impact on offense, and a young quarterback’s best friend is a rocksteady tight end over the middle. Johnson was given Second-Team All-SWAC honors in 2019, and with an established history of production should be given a long look by the XFL as they move to fill their rosters with quality talent.

TE Kyland Richey – Jackson State

Richey has been a consistent threat for Deion Sanders at Jackson State for the past 3 seasons. A big target at 6’4″ 230, he’s a classic TE prospect with good tools in the pass game and in run blocking. A sneaky threat in the red zone, he’s had 37 receptions for 459 Yards and a TD in his time with the Tigers.

A two-sport athlete who also played baseball at the high school and collegiate level, Richey is a solid TE prospect out of Jackson, Mississippi.

TE Montavius Tinch – Miles College

A 2022 HBCU Legacy Bowl invitee and two time All-SIAC selection, Montavius Tinch has made the most of his opportunities with the Bears. At 6’3″ 230 he has the size, and excels in both phases of the game as a TE. He finished his college career with 51 receptions for 553 yards and 3 scores. While his production as a pass-catcher is on the record, he prides himself on his blocking game, and that commitment could pay dividends as he looks to build his resume as a player.

Honorable Mentions

TE Dorrell James – Grambling State

TE Taron Mallard – Bethune-Cookman

TE Ke’Monta Stockdale – Fayetteville State

The Offensive Line

LT Ja’Tyre Carter – Southern

The Jaguars stalwart left tackle has been invited to the official NFL scouting combine, and the 6’5″ 290 pounder has been proving himself with the team for the past 4 seasons. If he goes unselected in the NFL draft, the XFL should pounce.

LG Jalen Powell – Norfolk State

Powell has played both center and guard, but spent most of his time at left guard. A 2021 First Team All-MEAC selection, he has a good build at 6’3″ 280, but could probably fill out his frame more to match bull rushers as he grows as a player. A promising IOL prospect for the league.

C Greg Brooks – Fayetteville State

The 2021 CIAA offensive lineman of the year, Brooks was the keystone of a Broncos unit that was 2nd in conference for scoring offense and yards. The three-time All-CIAA selection has won every honor in front of him during his time at Fayetteville, and would be wolcome in the XFL ranks.

RG Keenan Forbes – Florida A&M

A hulking guard at 6’3″, 330, Forbes was First Team All-SWAC in 2021, on a unit that paved the way for a rushing attack that totalled 1889 rushing yards and 14 TD’s. A fixture on the line that blocked for fellow First Teamer All-SWAC selection RB Bishop Bonnett, he projects as a mauler in the run game who could boost a rushing attack in the pros.

RT Cameron Durley – Tennessee State

A touted prospect at right tackle, Durley has the prototypical build at 6’6″ 315 pounds to be a mauler as well. Two-time All-Ohio Valley Conference and an invitee to the 2022 HBCU combine, he’s my top pick at RT in this class.

Honorable Mentions

OT Jamal Savage – Bethune-Cookman

OT Jay Jackson-Williams – Florida A&M

OT Zachary Wilcox – Virginia State

OG – Matthew Derks – Delaware State University

C – Danny Garza – Prairie View A&M

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Matt Nagashima has been covering the XFL since before the 2019 Draft, and has witnessed history being made as a Credentialed Reporter for the Dallas Renegades. While he is engrossed with the X's and O's, the roster building and more, it has always been his goal to keep the players first in mind in coverage, showing the human aspect of this sport behind all the action on the field. With Dany Garcia and Dwayne The Rock Johnson now at the helm, he's excited to see all the opportunities that this league will create for players to showcase their talent and make their dreams come true.

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